Have you ever struggled to learn something? Has it ever taken you longer to figure something out than everyone else? Do you have a mental block when it comes to certain subjects? We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning new things. Everyone is a slow learner about one thing or another.
I know I’m a slow learner when it comes to new languages or anything technological. But that doesn’t mean I’m a slow learner all the way around. It just means I’ve got some areas for growth.
Luckily for me and you, there are many ways to speed up learning, even when we’re talking about those areas that we usually struggle with.
Here are 12 ways for slow learners to speed up learning.
1. Relax and Stay Calm
It’s tough to learn much of anything when you’re stressed out or upset about something, so learning how to relax and stay calm is vital to speeding up your learning.
In one study, stress negatively impacted both recall and recognition tasks. This means that we need to do our best to de-stress and stay calm if we’re trying to shift from a slow learner to a fast one.
So, what kinds of activities can help us reduce stress and stay calm? Breathing exercises can help reduce stress. Slowing and deepening our breath can help us feel less stressed and calmer.
Mindfulness exercises can also help us think more about what we’re learning and less about what’s stressing us out. I like to notice what’s in my immediate environment and listen to the sounds happening all around me. This helps me shift from worrying and overthinking (bad for learning) to being able to better focus on the task at hand.
2. Remove Distractions
It’s also extremely difficult to learn efficiently when you’re surrounded by distractions. Extraneous noises and technology overload can get in our way when we’re trying to learn something new.
To overcome my slow learner tendencies, I make sure to put my phone away and turn off my notifications. I also find a quiet spot with no radio or TV to compete with whatever it is I’m trying to learn.
3. Eat Right
It may seem obvious, but there’s a direct link between proper nutrition and learning outcomes. Nutrient deficiencies can cause you to feel like you’re in a haze, which is a surefire recipe for slow learning.
Combat that by eating a healthy balanced diet filled with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fatty acids have been linked with memory and brain-boosting, so make sure to eat fish and nuts or try an omega-3 supplement.
Another healthy way to boost your learning is to get plenty of sleep. When we sleep, our brains sort through our experiences from the day. Some synaptic connections erode while others are strengthened during sleep. This just means that your brain requires deep sleep to strengthen memories, which means you have to sleep in order to learn.
So, get at least seven hours of sleep each night, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to learn. Try reviewing the information you’re trying to learn before bed, so you can use your sleep time transferring it as long-term memories.
It also helps to have a consistent bedtime routine. Your body needs to have consistent Circadian rhythms to fall right asleep and get those valuable REM cycles.
5. Play to Your Strengths
We all have our strengths and weaknesses, right? I know I’m terrible at foreign languages and much more comfortable with reading and writing. So, take a self-assessment and think about things you learn quickly and things that turn you into a slow learner.
Then, use this self-assessment to your advantage, and play to your strengths. When I’m struggling to learn Spanish or Bosnian, I challenge myself to read children’s books or write rudimentary stories because I enjoy them and am more comfortable with these activities. This helps me learn something I struggle with because I’m playing to my strengths, instead of just forcing myself to review grammar or memorize flashcards.
6. Practice Makes Perfect
Another trick for speeding up slow learning is to plan repeated exposure to whatever it is you’re trying to learn. Just reviewing your notes once is not going to do the trick.
There’s something called spaced repetition that helps make learning more effective. Spaced repetition is when you study tough material more often and easier material less often.
For example, if I’m trying to learn a new language, I might quiz myself with some vocabulary flashcards. I’m going to repeat all the cards I got wrong sooner than the ones I got right as I continue to add in new flashcards.
Spaced repetition is a proven method to help you store new information as long-term memories, which means that it becomes second nature. Sure, some people have a photographic memory, but for the rest of us, we need multiple exposures to new information to learn it.
7. Mnemonic Devices
Who remembers ROYGBIV? Probably a lot of you. ROYGBIV is a mnemonic device that helps us easily (and quickly) remember the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
Mnemonic devices help speed up learning by making memory encoding easier. It’s much easier for me to remember ROYGBIV than it is to remember all the colors. Then, the first letter of each color gives me a hint to make remembering the colors easier.
So, if you’re having a slow learner moment, speed up by using mnemonic devices.
8. Try All Learning Styles
Learning styles started to gain in popularity in the 1990s. Since that time, there’s never been definitive proof that someone’s preferred learning style (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and reading/writing) improves learning outcomes. However, knowing which style you prefer can help you learn faster.
I know I prefer to see things written out, so when I want a better chance of learning someone’s name I either write it out myself or ask them to write it, since hearing it spelled only confuses me further.
Find your preferred learning style and use it to your advantage.
But to really speed up learning, mix and match the learning styles and try to match the learning style with whatever you’re trying to learn.
For example, if you’re trying to learn a new song, you may want to hear it first. If you’re trying to figure out some new statistics, it may help to see it mapped out visually.
9. Reflect and Adjust
When we’re talking about speeding up learning, it may not make sense to stop and reflect, but being reflective and self-aware can speed up learning in the long run.
Keeping a journal to review past learning helps boost learning a little, but that may just be the boost you need to move from a slow learner to a not-so-slow one.
10. Know Your Learning Blocks
It’s also important to know what makes you shut down when trying to learn new things. I know that if I’m feeling embarrassed, I tend to shut down and get defensive instead of being open to learning new things. It’s important to figure out what makes you shut down, so you can recover and continue to learn.
Improv has a lot to teach us about how to create learning environments that promote creativity and learning. By going along with people’s ideas and not judging each other, we can create learning environments that are much more conducive to faster learning.
11. Don’t Be Afraid of Mistakes
Learning also requires us to make mistakes. If we’re too worried about being right or being perfect, we won’t take the risks necessary to learn new things.
When mistakes do happen, it’s important to be able to talk about them openly to learn from them, instead of letting them lead to shame and embarrassment.
12. Get Curious and Be Playful
Finally, to move from a slow learner to a fast one, it’s crucial to be curious about whatever it is you’re learning.
In one study, curiosity was shown to have positive benefits for workplace learning and performance.
I practice boosting my curiosity through play. I’ve developed 120 improv-inspired exercises to help people become more curious and mindful about their environment and make it easier for people to connect and form relationships with others.
The key is the shift in focus. When we play, we are better able to shift our focus from internal thoughts to an external focus on the people and objects around us. This helps decrease overthinking and distractions and helps people focus on the present moment and the task at hand, crucial ingredients for efficient learning.
Don’t beat yourself up if you think you’re a slow learner. Find comfort in knowing we all have our learning strengths and weaknesses.
You should also find comfort in the fact that there are twelve practical ways that you can start speeding up your learning today.
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Featured photo credit: Andrew Le via unsplash.com